Grains and Gluten: The New Offenders For Sure

October 6, 2011 · 22 comments

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gluten, wheat

This week’s Sunday New York Times magazine section was the “Food and Drink” issue. I love those issues! There is so much current thinking about food to digest! I just curled up on my couch and tucked in. Many familiar writers were featured including the esteemed (or notorious) Michael Pollan. I do agree with him on some things, but not what he said about gluten-free diets.

The question posed to him was, what do you think of gluten-free diets? His answer was,

They are very important if you have celiac disease or can’t tolerate gluten. But it’s hard to believe that the number of people suffering from these conditions has grown as fast as this product category. Gluten has become the bad nutrient of the moment, the evil twin of Omega 3 fatty acids. Could it really be that bread, a staple of Western civilization for 6,000 years is suddenly making millions of us sick? I’m dubious.

There are “fads” in natural health as there are in medicine. There are claims that a nutrient is suddenly great for certain conditions. For instance St. John’s wort was the poster child for mild depression a few years ago. Then Sam-e took over. At one point the diagnosis for chronic fatigue syndrome became very popular. Now it is called IBS/fibromyalgia. Currently the vitamin of the moment is vitamin D (or maybe I should say omega 3’s which Pollan has pointed out to be the good twin) — it is a cure for all things and a substance many people seem to be deficient in.

Sometimes it appears that these trends in health care are fabricated by the industry supplying the cure, as Mr. Pollan implies with his term product category. After all, celiac disease is one of the few diseases that conventional medicine actually recommends a change of diet as the mainstay for management of the condition. Food manufacturers are jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon and suddenly there are tons of gluten-free packaged goods available. It does seem suspect.

But what I really take issue with is Mr. Pollan challenging that bread can suddenly be making so many people ill. Indeed, it has been a staple for over 6,000 years — actually grains have been cultivated for 10,000 years. Before that we were hunter/gatherers for eons. Our digestive systems evolved to digest fats, meats and wild flora. The switch to a grain based diet is very recent in evolutionary terms and our digestion has not caught up.

Additionally, the grains we eat today are very different from the grains of our ancestors. Modern grains have been hybridized (some genetically modified and still not labeled as such) to the extend that genetically they are quite different than wheat grains from 200 years ago. They also have more gluten than they did years ago.

Furthermore, gluten has undergone a new process called deamination. Deamination is used in the food processing industry to render the gluten more water soluble so that it may be added to many foods easily without changing the food’s qualities.

These isolates are used as food emulsifiers, gelling agents, stretchablility agents in meat products, sauces and soups and as clarifying agents in red wine. Clearly, it is pervasive in the packaged food supply. Sadly it is even present in protein products like meat.

The immune response to this deamidated gliadin is much greater than to regular gliadin. A double blind, placebo controlled food challenge study in 2003 concluded that these processes used for gluten deamidation generate new allergenic epitopes.

Research show that this extensive use of deamidated wheat isolates (gliadin) may be a major cause of hidden food allergies. Can this be contributing to health problems today?

Studies show that this deamidation of gliadin peptides produces a greater activation of T cells – a greater immune response to it. This is not the wheat that our recent ancestors ate. This is a manufactured food product that has recently been introduced to the food supply and that is clearly causing exagerrated immune reactions in certain people.

Add all these problems together with the fact that the commercial grains are not properly prepared – they should be soaked and/or sprouted to remove antinutrients and phytic acid – to improve digestibility and nutrient absorption. Additionally, most grain products have many others questionable additives that may affect one’s health.

When people stop eating gluten and grain products many experience a great reduction in symptoms and a tremendous improvement in their health. When the diagnosis is indeed celiac, the elimination diet is recommended. However gluten intolerance is also widespread but not measurable with conventional tests so it is ignored.

These are the people who live their lives in poor health, without the answers they need. Nutritionists and integrative doctors have been using alternative lab testing that is reliable and can help these people find out if they are gluten intolerant. There is research that shows that gluten intolerance is indeed a condition.

Even easier, just go on a grain elimination diet for a few weeks to see how things improve. Join me in my 28 day Grain-Free Challenge. It may change your life! Mr. Pollan notwithstanding.

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This post is linked to: Fresh Bites Friday, Fight Back Friday, Friday Food, Living Well,

Sugar Free Sunday, Mangia Monday, Melt in Mouth Monday, Real Food 101, Monday Mania, Homemaker Monday, Weekend Carnival, Tuesday Tasty Tidbits, Tuesday at the Table, Tasty Tuesday Traditional Tuesday, Healthy 2Day Wednesday, Real Food Wednesday, Gluten-Free Wednesday, These Chicks Cooked

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dew October 9, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Soylent Grain

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2 Melissa @ Dyno-mom October 10, 2011 at 8:39 pm

While I don’t agree with 100% of what Michael Pollen writes, I do like him a great deal. I think that one of the things that Pollen isn’t considering is that grains have been a stable, but not to the degree that they are now. EVERYTHING has corn or wheat in it, even when it would not when prepared in a home kitchen. Our meats, if processed, have some portion supplanted with grains or soy. It used to be the grain dishes were breads and pastas, not the adultrated meats. It is overkill.

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3 Cole October 11, 2011 at 9:41 pm

What an interesting article.  Food for thought, without a doubt!

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4 Anonymous October 12, 2011 at 12:15 am

I actually agree with Pollan on this that grains have become the new popular food enemy. It may be that we eat more grains than we should, but I don’t think that eliminating them is essential or desirable. It may also be true that the grains we eat have changed over time, but I think that eliminating grains as the solution to that problem only creates additional problems of another kind. I believe a healthy diet is a balanced diet, or in Pollan’s words, “real food, mostly vegetables, not too much.”

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5 Jill October 12, 2011 at 1:31 am

Hi quickeasycheaphealthy,
That’s exactly where I disagree with Pollan. Real food is NOT mostly vegetables. There are no healthy cultures that ate mostly vegetables. There may be one or two exceptions and they ate organic, local and also ate insects.

The majority of the healthy cultures studied by Dr. Price ate animals products from humanely treated pastured animals. And that included the fat, the raw dairy products as well as the meat and the bones were used for broth. If they ate grains, they were meticulously prepared and it was a small part of the diet.

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6 Anonymous October 16, 2011 at 1:45 am

Well, you touch on a subject that annoys me too.  I think the health industry is just as bad as the drug industry in throwing out the “latest cures” to what we need to make us have better quality of life.  I don’t really trust either.  I think you have to just decide what you believe to be true and go online and back it up with some doctor’s studies in favor of what you find to be true for you.  Do I sound like a skeptic?  Just within my own family we have a wide variety of opinions as to what is “healthy”.  My mom is pro soy protein…Shaklee….who claims that their soy is not bad for you like other soy.  Really?  One daughter is a Celiac…so we are all trying to cut out gluten (well…when she is around).  One daughter just believes it is all about exercise….One of my friends was a vegetarian for a couple of years…eating tons of grains…and now she eats a lot of protein (meat) and very few grains….because that seems to be the trend in weight loss….Weight Watcher….etc.  It is all too confusing to me….and like I said….annoying.  I am a foodie and I just want to eat and be happy…but unfortunately, my weight has reflected that “come what may” attitude and I am having to reevaluate.  Just don’t know who to believe.  

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7 Jill October 16, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Hi Permanent Posies,
It is very confusing because of all the misinformation out there. So you have to use
common sense. Nature provides us with everything we need to enjoy good
health. It is when we eat things not found in nature that our bodies get
unbalanced.

When you eat properly prepared, nutrient rich foods
you are feeding your body. When you eat commercial fake foods you will
not get the nutrients you need and your body thinks it is starving and
this will cause you to eat more in order to try to get the nutrition you
need.

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8 Jill October 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Hi Permanent Posies,
It is very confusing and so you have to use common sense. Nature provides us with everything we need to enjoy good health. It is when we eat things not found in nature that our bodies get unbalanced.

When you eat properly prepared, nutrient rich foods you are feeding your body. When you eat commercial fake foods you will not get the nutrients you need and your body thinks it is starving and this will cause you to eat more in order to try to get the nutrition you need.

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9 Anonymous October 16, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Sounds like a simple approach.  We are trying to eliminate most of the commercial fake food…..sticking to the outer edge of the grocery store, as much as possible.  I will never adapt a diet that does not have meat in it or dairy in it.  I don’t care who out there says that is bad for you.  I do try to be picky about it though.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to go without my grains either…..so I am just really trying to limit them.  I really thought long and hard about trying your 30 day challenge but failed the first day…haha.  Right now, I am working on so many dietary things at once that I decided that I would work my way towards that.  I really do want to try it and see how I feel.  

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10 Jill October 17, 2011 at 1:52 am

The best thing to do is what you are doing — go at your own pace with small goals in mind leading towards the greater goal.

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11 Bebe May 2, 2012 at 1:59 pm

It IS confusing and frustrating sometimes, just trying to make sense of the trends, our own personal health and/or challenges. I have come to believe (again) that balance is where it’s at.
I went gluten-free for a while because I really began to notice it was wheat that triggered my joint pain, muscle weakness and fatigue. Then I tried grain free for a few months which then morphed into grain minimal. I’m still at grain minimal and the grains I do choose to eat are pre-sprouted (whole oat groats that we roll ourselves into flakes for oatmeal, brown rice, corn and millet) and I have added sourdough wheat bread back in, two or three slices a week max. I don’t get any of my previous pain/weakness/fatigue symptoms. Yeah! I am just happy to be able to have bread on occasion!
At the same time I gave up wheat and then grains in general I was also adding in more bone broths and fermented vegetables, kind of a self-styled GAPS knockoff. I was also having huge hormonal shifts and put back on 30 of the 40 pounds I’d lost, seemingly from just *looking* at the food… lol! Now I am just working on getting most of my nutrients from whole foods (weaning off supplements, using herbs instead), moving my body and working my muscles when the opportunity arises (yard and garden work, kettlebell workouts, jumping on the trampoline, biking), spending as much time as possible outdoors (barefoot is a plus). I am also working to get my body temp up (most mornings it’s in the low 96s, yikes!) and to get as much sleep as possible (I would be totally stoked to get 8 hrs, straight through, it’s been years!).

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12 Tina August 14, 2013 at 11:59 am

I went totally grain-free for the longest time as I really felt grain was evil. I started thinking about what I was eating while grain-free and realized all these gluten-free recipes and products, many promoted by real food bloggers, are the nutritional equivalent of crap. I got on the almond flour bandwagon for awhile. Does anyone take the time to research and realize how absolutely bad for you almond flour is? Chock full of PUFAs. PUFAs stay in your body for years and cause cardiovascular disease, inflammation, metabolic syndrome, etc. All of the gluten-free products and flours are totally void or nutrition. In essence, I was eating “real food junk food” in order to eliminate grains and gluten from my diet. Decided to stop that and actually eat the more nutritious grains (properly prepared) on a limited basis. I feel much better since I did. I agree that Michael Pollan isn’t addressing the Frankengrain hybridization of modern wheat and I avoid that. I only use spelt and einkorn as they are unhybridized – and only sprouted or soured. I don’t even trust soaking. Also, I do enjoy coconut flour and believe that is the only nutritious substitute for celiacs. So many are trashing their diets, bodies and adrenal systems just to avoid gluten when it’s not necessary for the vast majority.

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13 Jill August 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Hi Tina,
Your comment is interesting as I remember when you were vehemently against grains. I do agree that properly prepared grains are essential and heirloom grains best. However, some people just can’t tolerate them at all. I do favor coconut flour over almond flour, but use both.

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